Call for an end to 'impunity' for rapists as it's revealed only 2% of cases here see a conviction
Rapists can effectively act with impunity in Northern Ireland because of the lack of cases that result in a conviction, it has been claimed.
It comes after statistics suggested under 2% of cases passed to prosecutors for consideration lead to a guilty verdict.
The disturbing trend emerged in a report published yesterday by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
In the last year prosecutors handled more than 600 case files which involved a rape offence, yet just 10 people were convicted.
Only a minority of cases ever make it to court, the statistics show.
Green Party leader Clare Bailey claimed the low conviction rate for rape meant there is effectively "impunity for rapists" in Northern Ireland.
The PPS said it prosecuted 76 people for rape last year - the highest number in the last four years. It said there were "significant challenges" in prosecuting cases.
Yesterday's report shows a 70% increase in the number of rape files referred to the PPS in the four years since 2015/16.
But it also shows how the vast majority of cases investigated do not result in a conviction.
In the 12 months to March this year, the PPS considered evidence against 637 rape suspects.
In the same period a decision was taken to prosecute just 48 defendants. And only 10 defendants in the Crown Court were convicted of rape.
A case may not be prosecuted in the same year it was investigated, therefore figures for cases investigated and convictions are not directly comparable.
However, they do indicate a continued pattern of a small minority of cases reaching court and resulting in conviction.
Taking last year as an example, based on the 637 suspects and 10 guilty verdicts, the conviction rate would be under 2%.
Belfast South MLA Ms Bailey said it was time "to end impunity for rapists".
"Rape is a serious and sickening crime yet the overwhelming majority of offences do not result in a charge, let alone conviction," she said. "In effect there is state impunity for rapists."
Ms Bailey said she believed the PPS "is making efforts to improve the outcomes for rape victims" but added that without the full implementation of the Gillen Review recommendations "the picture cannot improve".
The review was launched by retired High Court judge Sir John Gillen in May 2018, two months after former Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were found not guilty of rape after a high-profile trial. It made a series of recommendations around how serious sexual offences are handled by the justice system.
Referring to the PPS bulletin, SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said she was "shocked the outcomes are so poor".
"If the level of conviction for rape is so dismally low, people aren't going to be afraid of the consequences of committing such a heinous crime," she added.
Louise Kennedy from Victim Support NI said they are "concerned that sexual violence cases continue to be slow progressing through the system".
Nexus NI clinical manager Trevor Curran said it is "always concerning to see a rise in these type of crimes with such a low conviction rate".
The PPS bulletin examines the number of all sexual offences to come before the courts here in the last year. The total number of files received by the organisation that involved a sexual offence (1,594) related to 1,685 suspects - in a small number of cases an offence may have involved more than one suspect. Of these, 637 were charged or reported for rape - up 7.2% on 2017/18 - and 1,048 for other sexual offences, a rise of 6.3%.
Ciaran McQuillan, head of the PPS Serious Crime Unit, said there are significant challenges in prosecuting cases involving sexual offences, including rapes.
He added: "The burden of proof is always on the prosecution to prove such allegations to a jury beyond all reasonable doubt. That is a high bar for a jury to reach, particularly when so many of these cases hinge on the issue of consent.
"Corroborating or supporting evidence, although not essential to prove an offence, may not be available as alleged offences frequently take place in private and the complainant is the only witness.
"We want to reassure the public that we are working with our partners in the criminal justice system and other stakeholders, including through our response to the Gillen Review, to address the issues that lead to lower convictions rates for sexual offences contrasted with other offence types."
Number of Crown Court defendants convicted of rape April '18-March '19